Wayne Wallace

Wayne Wallace, a tall and lean trombonist from San Francisco, walks with a smooth rolling stride, moving with the graceful grace of someone who takes his time. He pauses before answering a question and carefully chooses his words to convey an introspective tone rather than being guarded. He’s 59 years old and has broken the color line at many venues. Yet, he is young enough to be a successful musician, bandleader, composer/producer, entrepreneur, and owner of Patois Records which has a national reach. Wallace is known as “The Doctor” for his empathy as a producer and educator, who has mentored and trained hundreds of musicians. He has nearly fully accepted his role as an indispensable Bay Area figure. He says, “Maybe I’m an elder statesman now.” It’s funny. I don’t feel so old. “I have a lot of things to do.” He has been focusing on his Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet which features Murray Low, Michael Spiro, bassist David Belove, and drummer Paul van Wageningen. This is the group he documented on To Hear from There, his new album. It follows his Grammy-nominated 2009 CD!Bien Bien! Wallace’s trombone playing is vibrant and expressive, from his spun-butter tone in “In a Sentimental Mood”, which can be interpreted as a bolero, to his burry, raw-and-tumble bombaized version of Freedom Jazz Dance. Wallace traces his journey from being an essential sideman to a bandleader back to a NEA grant he received early in the 1990s to create and perform a piece that combined African-American influences and Afro-Cuban roots music. The resultant suite, “Digging Up the Roots,” was premiered at the Stanford Jazz Festival 1993. Wallace recalls that he didn’t start his own band for many years but that “that’s what pushed” him in this direction. I was working with friends, and it was fun. Working with John Santos and Pete Escovedo, I had gained knowledge. I was writing all the time and “Digging Up The Roots” was an extension of that. “I felt confident in stepping forward with my project and knew that I was going in that direction,” he said. In 2000, he released his first CD Three in One (Spirit Nectar), which showcased his writing skills as well as his extensive knowledge of Afro-Cuban rhythms. It wasn’t groundbreaking, but it was personal. The result of many years spent in East Bay grease, descarga release, and salsa, and son, was the album. Wallace is a native of San Francisco and the music reflects the unique Latin-jazz sensibility found in the Bay Area. The album features the work of a wide range of his colleagues from clave. Wallace states that the sound created here is not New York or Miami. Wallace says, “We have fostered a sound here that’s not New York or Miami.” He was a prominent soloist and arranger for many big bands that Escovedo led in the 1980s and 1990s. This helped to refine the percussionist’s populist sound which combines rock and funk with Latin grooves. He also developed a deep appreciation for folkloric Afro-Cuban forms during Conjunto Cespedes’ pioneering West Coast son group in the 1990s. He was also a founding member of John Santos’ Machete Ensemble and the co-musical director. This talented group carried the progressive Latin jazz torch for over 20 years, until Santos disbanded them in 2006. Santos states that Wayne’s writing and playing were key to our sound and direction. Wallace’s curiosity is what drives him. Wallace will seek out information if he is in a situation that makes him feel less grounded. This led to several trips to Cuba in mid-’90s. Wallace states that his biggest problem is not liking to be outside music. “I became tired of the rhythmic language that the percussionist used to speak, which I couldn’t understand. “Studying in Cuba really helped my understanding of the cultural aspect of Cuban music.” The trombonist also plays a significant role in the Asian-American Jazz movement, which has been a major component of the Bay Area jazz scene since the 1980s. Jon Jang, the pianist, has collaborated extensively with him, including several beautiful solos on his 2006 Asian Improv album Paper Son, Paper Songs. He has also worked extensively with Anthony Brown, percussionist. His recordings include every Asian American Orchestra recording since 1998’s Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire through 2010’s India

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